The idea of a lawyer with little background in personnel but final say on the 53-man roster was supposed to scare off all the good head coaching candidates. A ship run by a misunderstood former baseball executive almost promised that the Browns would pinball their way through another identity crisis and end up sticking themselves with a third choice that could be, might be the right man for the job.
We don't know what Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta's lasting mark on football will be, but on Wednesday they landed Hue Jackson as their head coach. They did so despite Jackson being one of the hottest names on the market next to new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. They did so despite Jackson reportedly being offered a succession plan by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, guaranteeing him years of stability in a franchise that clearly does not lack patience (courtesy of NFL Media's Michael Silver). They did so despite succeeding the last head coach and general manager, who flamed out with a fistful of high draft picks they could never seem to use.
The Browns end up yo-yoing between belief and disbelief so frequently. This is the eighth head coach they've hired since 1999 but just the second since 1975 that has previous head coaching experience. Mike Pettine lasted just two years and, before him, Rob Chudzinski lasted just a year. They cycle through often enough that people often forget who is telling him that these aren't the same old rambling, dysfunctional Browns. The message loses its potency.
But Wednesday was different in that it felt like a coup. The Browns were competing against other teams -- storied franchises -- for Jackson. Jackson picked the Browns because of the freedom put in place by the new executives. He picked the Browns because of the way this once horrifyingly twisted power structure actually works (for a primer, see here).
Nothing in the NFL is guaranteed and there's a distinct possibility that in two more years we're watching the team say goodbye to another coach and another one-time franchise quarterback. We can look back on this column and laugh. We can talk about that prime swampland in Florida you'd like to sell me. The name on the uniform trains people to think a certain way.
What about in the present?
There are moments when perennially bad franchises finally make decisions that drastically shift the course of the next decade. Sometimes the moves or subtle, or seem like it at the time. Two years ago, after making it clear that they weren't going to sign Tim Tebow, the Jacksonville Jaguars nearly landed one of the best free agents on the market -- center Alex Mack. A year later, they have what appears to be a franchise quarterback and two of the best young receivers in football. They landed tight end Julius Thomas, again, one of the best free agents on the market.
Wednesday, for at least a few minutes, will get to feel like that for the Browns. Per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, Jackson has already made it clear that he'll be moving on from Johnny Manziel at quarterback. As a coach who gets to report directly to owner Jimmy Haslam, Jackson will aid in the selection of a personnel chief, which will help negate so much of the infighting that has perforated this organization over the last 15 years.
Maybe Jackson isn't either. But has there been a moment over the last decade when a Browns fan has truly believed without suspending all doubt? Is this that moment?